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The Indian Navy’s Potent Conventional Submarine Capability

India is currently planning a fleet of nuclear powered submarines. But unlike other nuclear navies, India will not go all-nuclear. Instead they they will be complemented by 6 locally-built Kalvari Class conventionally powered boats and 6 of a follow-on Project-75I type. These conventional diesel-electric boats will be an important pillar of India’s submarine capability.

The Kalvari Class are an Indian Navy specific version of the French Scorpène design. Currently 2 are in service, 2 more are on trials and 2 are under construction. Together with the Project-75I type they will replace the ageing Shishumar class (German Type-209) and Sindhughosh class (Russian Kilo). The main capability jump for Project-75I will be Air Independent Power (AIP). This will allow the submarines to remain submerged for longer periods. The design of the Project-75I has not been selected yet. Potential overseas partners include German, French, South Korean, Spanish and Italian firms.

But the new submarine building projects will not deliver submarines as quickly as some in the Navy would hope. Russia may be hoping to capitalize on the situation by offering more refurbished Kilo Class submarines. This would see 6 of the Indian Kilos serving longer to bridge the gap. Two of the original Kilos are already out of service; INS Sindhurakshak was lost in an accident in Mumbai harbor in 2013 and INS Sindhuvir was transferred to Myanmar last year, becoming their first submarine. The deal, reported in local media, would see 3 Kilos supplied as well as to life-extension upgrades on 3 of India’s existing Kilo fleet.

Russia was once India’s main source of submarines. It lost some ground to Germany in the 1980s when 4 Type-209 Shishumar Class submarines were acquired. And the next order went to France who sold India the Scorpène design.

The new proposal may take some pressure off this situation, buying time. But the Russian boats themselves are not fresh hulls. The refits, details of which were not reported, would likely keep them viable. But they cannot be thought of as truly modern submarines.

One important capability which the Kilos provide India is their submarine launched cruise missiles. They are equipped with the Russian supplied 3M-14E Club-S missile which is roughly similar to the American Tomahawk. It is shorter ranged however, being limited to under 200 miles.

Russia is still in the picture either way though as it is helping India with its indigenous nuclear submarine program. And the Kilo deal may make the Russian entry for Project-75I look more attractive. So the 2030s could see Russia return to its premier position as India’s external submarine partner. Russia has yet to prove modern AIP however.

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